I sat in a room filled with deeply shattered people, and though their stories were different, their grief was the same: one loud cry of “Injustice!” Our facilitator brought up the topic of helpful and toxic people when you’re dealing with traumatic, tragic loss. Sadly, it’s the people in closest relationship with you who can be the most toxic. They mean well, but what they have to say that sounds encouraging and sympathetic to them rings very differently in the cavity of a needlessly emptied heart.
People look with sympathetic eyes and tell you, “It will be okay. Just move on.God has something better for you.” What those of us who’ve tragically lost someone we love want to say – but generally are too “nice” to reply, is the loud anguished cry I heard at the meeting last week through all the pain in the room. “NO! It will NEVER be ‘okay’!”
Really? Have those of you offering your helpful advice ever had the dearest, most beloved, cherished person or relationship ripped out of your life by the callous indifference, thoughtless carelessness, complete selfishness, or brutal anger or malice of another person? Would it be okay if a sniper’s bullet just took out the spouse, child, friend sitting next you in your secure home? How about your cherished dog or cat? If the blood of your child spilled across your floor, would it still be “okay” and would you simply wipe up the floor and “move on”?
No, what we want to say in that moment – and now I know it’s much the same whether the loss comes from an unwanted and cruel divorce brutally ending your marriage or through the homicide or manslaughter death of a loved one – is this: “STOP! STOP THE WORLD! Everyone,pay attention;something horrible just happened! This treasure has been taken,this life cut short, this family shattered! Bow your head,cry out, weep with me, because this is INJUSTICE!” Frankly, the survivors feel like the earth should stop turning, everyone in the world should drop their “to do” lists filled with mundane, routine urgencies, and weep for at least a few minutes over the loss of somebody or someone precious and wonderful, someone whose life held potential and goodness and joy for themselves and for others,whose absence now means tragedy, loss, pain,and emptiness for those left behind. Stop,weep,and say, “YES, it matters! YES, it hurts you terribly!” and allow for the very present and very real continuing sorrow. THAT is what is okay: to grieve, to feel the hurt, to acknowledge the loss,to allow yourself to care and love and feel the loss of love.
Trust me, survivors feel guilt and re-run the tapes of what could have happened to prevent the loss. Someone should have seen this coming, told me or told someone who could intervene what he/she was saying, someone should have paid attention, stepped in, done something, said something, intervened somehow to prevent or circumvent this tragedy.
Sadly everyone seems think it’s someone else’s job, it would be too hurtful to tell you the truth, somehow that person will turn around or get the help they need. After the fact, after it was years too late to change anything or help anything, people told me what “he” had told them or had done ten years earlier. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings – I didn’t want to get involved – I didn’t want to upset you” was the common reasoning I heard for the silence of my neighbors and my family and friends. Last week we all listened to each others’ unreported red flags in one horrible tragedy after another: teachers who overlooked a student’s sudden plummeting grades and changed behavior but never looked into the reason, bartenders and bar patrons who watched someone drinking excessively and never asked who would be driving them home, bosses and people who looked the other way when they should have spoken into an addicted life, no one taking seriously the mental illness or emotional dysfunction they saw in a person.
I vividly remember sitting decades ago in a room with my elderly aunt, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s that her neighbors thought was some form of mental illness. Due to “privacy”rules, she had to be the one to commit herself for observation. Really? The mental health system expects a mentally ill person to have the sanity and presence of mind to see they need psychiatry? Isn’t that like expecting a bank robber to suddenly realize,”Oops, I shouldn’t be stealing other people’s money”? My father and I had to, gently and lovingly as we could, tell her firmly that something was wrong with her. That confrontation was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but after the fact, we realized she might have seriously hurt herself or someone else if we hadn’t intervened,and more than that, she wouldn’t have received the diagnosis and care she genuinely needed. We did the right thing.
I attempted the same intervention many years later with another loved one, but sadly, that person needed to see the dysfunction, but because of dysfunction, refused to see or admit it. That story had a tragic ending, a deeply hurtful injustice. God himself spoke that to me,and though I’m glad God knows it, still that doesn’t diminish the pain. So weep with me, hold me, rage with me at the injustice, tell me you’ll be here for me tomorrow, but be courageous enough to be here for me three months or three years from now if that’s how long my grief lasts.Walk with me. Take me on a picnic, BE with me in real life if you truly want to help my healing, but don’t ever judge me for feeling, for crying, or tell me to cover my scars in your presence so I don’t upset anyone. Don’t tell me I need to be the nice and thoughtful person mindful of the feelings of others when someone has dealt me a malignantly ugly harmful, unkind blow. Rather, look into the ugliness of genuine, tragic loss and marvel that I’m brave enough to still be alive.
Angry? In my own situation, when two psychologists and a psychiatrist didn’t see his disorder, despite me telling the truth of what I’d live in, angry? When a pastor saw disorder in the man and simply labeled it ”demons” and gave no direction to help or counseling resources? In a lesser injustice,was I angry when teachers passed on my neighbor’s daughter, struggling pitifully in math, because they “thought” her Hispanic last name meant she had issues understanding English, yet she only spoke English and I saw in one ten-minute session with her that she had no idea of the number line in her head? You bet I feel angry! You bet survivors feel angry, but friends and society expect us to be the “nice” people who “suck it up” and act like we’re okay when we are anything BUT okay with the injustice we’ve suffered.
WHY MUST WE KEEP SILENT? WHY MUST WE HAVE NO VOICE? Does hurting someone else’s feelings matter more than the wrong of taking someone’s life? The wrong of destroying a family and shattering lives?
We know we have to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift I give myself, to set my own heart and mind free from, and see I’m not the one to bring, the justice I want and need to right the wrong, but don’t ever think it comes cheaply or easily. Forgiveness costs me, big time, but it’s the price of my freedom from bitterness. For me as a Christian, forgiveness is the example Jesus gave, the command – not just the suggestion – to forgive seven times seven IF the one who wronged me repents and asks for my forgiveness.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4
And if the one who wronged me doesn’t repent? I’ve felt the sting of no remorse. The disciples replied to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” I still have to find a way to forgive, to give the anger and hurt over to Jesus, handing him the broken glass to turn into “sea glass” in the ocean of his love, for him to redeem somehow, to bring beauty from ashes and meaning from senseless tragedy. I have to pay the costly price of giving up my right to true justice. For those going through an ugly, unwanted divorce, the only true justice would be true heart-felt reconciliation. For homicide survivors, the only real justice would be their loved one back alive and whole again.
“Just move on”? YOU try it after tragedy, and only then do you have the right to tell me and others to. Till then, look me, or look your friend or family member, square in the eye and tell me/them you can’t imagine how much it hurts.Tell me/them you’ll be there. Tell me/them you won’t walk away even when I/they spurt some ugly tears.
No, I can’t “just move on.” Neither could any of the people in the room last week, and the counselors recognized that hard truth. For us,the survivors, it would have been less painful if we had died; there would have been a welcome end to our grief and agony. No,we don’t need to be committed to an institution: we need to be understood, heard, wept with, our feelings of loss validated by the people who care about us. We need “the system” to work quickly and justly. We will always carry the scars the wounds, and no, my friends, don’t tell me to put on a happy face as “makeup”to cover my scars so YOU don’t have to look at something “ugly.” In truth, it isn’t “ugly” – it’s the beauty mark of genuine love.
When my father died after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s, we knew he was free from a terrible disease and, because he loved Jesus as Lord and Savior, Dad was with his Creator, God, King, Lord, Savior, and truest Friend. Same thing when my other passed away 14 years later. She was free from pain of arthritis and vascular dementia, home with Dad and her parents and siblings at that big reunion potluck, and enjoying the blessings and bliss of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Closure. But truthfully there is no closure with sudden, tragic or traumatic death. There is no real closure with divorce, no “acceptance” except the hard reality that we will have to learn to live with the injustice and the pain and loss. Christians have the certain hope of God’s eventual redemptive justice, though it may well not be the kind of justice, the wrong-righting that we wanted to see. Still, we hold our hands up to receive our ongoing healing and blessings from a good, good Father. Till then, allow us to feel, walk with us, and help us go forward into the life we have yet to live, the purposes we can yet find, with our beautiful scars of love.
Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31: 7-8 RSV
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:10-14 NIV
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV
I remember singing the song “Lonesome Valley” at church camp. We changed the lyrics a bit to reflect a better truth than the song originally speaks, a truth that the verses above proclaim.
You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.
Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.
Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
You don’t go there by yourself
For now there is One who walks beside you
You needn’t walk it by yourself.
You must go and stand your trials
You needn’t stand it by yourself
For now there is One to stand beside you
You needn’t stand it by yourself.
Amen, Lord Jesus, walk beside me, stand with me, carry me when I can’t go another step, be my light on the dark path ahead of me, be the voice of comfort in my days of pain, be redeeming love in my life, put my broken pieces back together and bring me out into a new, beautiful hope and victory that only YOU can bring.